Mother Teresa was asked to support the building of a massive new hospital that would be named after her. When it was suggested she might think of the extra lives the hospital might save and how all who entered would see her name, her response was quick and simple: ‘God did not call me to minister to the millions, but to minister to the one in front of me.’ The person in front of her was what her life was about.
I recall this as I read the gospel for the first Sunday in August. It’s the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. The crowds are hungry and the reaction of the disciples is predictable: ‘Send the people away and they can go to the villages to buy themselves some food.’ It was taken for granted that the welfare of so many people was too big a problem for them to solve.
Mother Teresa was criticised for failing to consider large-scale projects to eradicate global poverty and disease. When faced with worldwide hunger and inequality we imagine the solution lies in an industrial, logistical exercise, way beyond our capability. Aren’t we more likely to say: ‘What difference can I make?’ And so we do nothing.
This miracle challenges that assumption. Jesus tells his disciples: ‘Give them something to eat yourselves.’ Five loaves and two fish are nothing at all. John’s Gospel adds the telling detail that it’s a little boy’s lunch. Yet it’s a little boy’s lunch that saves the day. If we start with what we’ve got we can achieve great things. The miracle of that day is not the magical multiplication of loaves. The miracle is the change of heart that led everyone to share.